What happens after Victor Wembanyama?

new balance

OK, we know Victor Wembanyama is headed to San Antonio.

The Spurs winning the draft lottery was their one-way ticket back up the Western Conference ladder following a multi-year cold spell, and Gregg Popovich getting to coach a generational prospect in Wembanyama feels unfair.

At least that’s what 29 other teams have thought about after losing out on the Wembanyama sweepstakes, and now have to pivot to what to do next in terms of roster construction. Do you keep your pick(s) and believe in the player you’re drafting or trade back and reassess?

That’s the dilemma every front office not in San Antonio will be facing when the 2023 NBA Draft gets underway on Thursday, June 22.

So, what should teams do when the draft commences? Let’s take a look at all 30 first-round picks, with the first one being obvious:

*Note: This mock draft includes straight picks – no potential trades – for teams currently holding said selections as of June 16, 2023.

1. San Antonio Spurs: C Victor Wembanyama, Metropolitans 92

As already mentioned, the first pick is a no-brainer for the Spurs. Measuring 7-foot-5 in shoes, the French center is a type of prospect never seen before in the NBA. Wembanyama, 19, can put the ball on the floor and create at an elite level for his age, while possessing exceptional defensive skills in terms of shot-blocking/anticipating and lateral movement when guarding the perimeter. San Antonio has its face of the franchise, now it needs to smartly build out the rest.

2. Charlotte Hornets: G Scoot Henderson, G League Ignite

Here’s where the draft gets quite tricky, and what happens could see dominoes fall in subsequent selections. Charlotte is in the fit vs. talent conundrum. If Wembanyama wasn’t in this class then Henderson is the next best prospect. But the Hornets already have a potential elite guard in LaMelo Ball and likely would be better off with forward Brandon Miller, the next best option, instead, considering Charlotte’s lack of depth there. But when you have the No. 2 overall pick, it’s always about drafting the best talent. Fit can be sorted later, especially if Ball’s injury history proves more problematic than it already is. Scoot should go No. 2.

In an ideal world, Portland finally pulls the plug on the Damian Lillard experiment and lets him compete for a ring elsewhere while rebuilding the roster. But the Trail Blazers have seemed to be following the wrong trails for a while now, so we don’t know what they’ll do with this pick. If Scoot falls, that changes the equation. But for now, Miller is the next best prospect in this draft and has the potential to be a do-it-all forward with elite intangibles; he just doesn’t immediately move the needle for Lillard to win in Portland.

4. Houston Rockets: G/F Cam Whitmore, Villanova

Houston’s pick likely depends on what they feel happens regarding James Harden. Does he return to the city after his time in Philadelphia? The Rockets are loaded with youngsters that haven’t jelled yet, but Ime Udoka was brought in to steer the team in a better direction. Whitmore comes in here because Houston already has on-ball players and big men, so a wing with a ceiling feels appropriate. Whitmore, 18, has intriguing scoring upside and would have time to develop as a versatile option.

5. Detroit Pistons: F/C Jarace Walker, Houston

The Pistons lost hard in the lottery and now have to settle for a non-top-three prospect despite having the worst record last season. But now they have to optimize their hand, which sees them taking Walker at No. 5 after driving through the guard route the last few years. Walker, 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, can develop into an intriguing small-ball center with his early prowess in the pick-and-roll game, and if his 3-point shooting (34.7% on 2.8 attempts) can improve in consistency, that’d be even better for the new Monty Williams-led team.

6. Orlando Magic: G Amen Thompson, Overtime Elite

The Magic have constructed a roster loaded with versatile long forwards and centers, but the jury is still out at the guard positions. Jalen Suggs, a former No. 5 overall pick, hasn’t found his form just yet, but grabbing another guard with more upside than Markelle Fultz – with Cole Anthony as the backup – feels right. Amen, the first of the Thompson brothers, comes first due to his 6-foot-6 height and 7-foot wingspan as a lead guard. He’ll need to make a drastic leap on his long-range shooting and cut down his assist-to-turnover ratio, but his intangibles screams Orlando.

Tyrese Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin solidified themselves as a backcourt for the future: a playmaker and a scorer. Myles Turner also proved himself a solid fit as a stretch 5. The real issue for Indiana is finding a wing/forward who can move the needle for their future playoff aspirations, which is where Hendricks, 19, comes in. His profile, at 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, screams 3-and-D prototype, where he can make an immediate impact as he shot 39.4% on 4.6 3-point attempts at UCF. His defensive instincts both on and off the ball should translate quickly, but he’ll need to improve his off-the-bounce game offensively to take the next step. That, and his jumper’s release point starts too low. If he wants to expand his scoring bag, his shooting mechanics have to go higher. But Indiana feels like the best infusion of fit and talent.

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The Bradley Beal trade rumors are starting to swirl at a convenient time. Is Washington planning to end the Beal era and retool? (Looking at you, Portland.) If so, going with a guard to potentially pair with Johnny Davis makes sense. Black’s shooting and floor spacing are reasonable concerns, but at 6-foot-6, he gives optimal size as a lead guard with superb playmaking skills in this class. Maybe a non-shooter pairing with Davis – another non-shooter – doesn’t make a ton of sense, but pure point guards in this draft have that similarity. Ausar Thompson is another option, though more athletic, but struggles with the shooting component like his aforementioned brother, Amen.

9. Utah Jazz: F Gradey Dick, Kansas

This probably feels high for Dick, but he feels like a Jazz player. A 6-foot-6 wing who hit 40.3% from deep on six attempts on a roster lacking players of his profile? It feels right for Utah considering it has guard options already and doesn’t need another big man with Lauri Markkanen’s breakout year and Walker Kessler thriving. Bilal Coulibaly, Wembanyama’s Metropolitans 92 teammate, is an interesting swing name here, too.

Given the draft class and what Dallas needs, it doesn’t feel likely it keeps this pick. Maybe Dallas trades back or packages it in a trade, but for now, going with a combo guard is the pick. George commands the ball and isn’t afraid to shoot, though separation and long-range consistency are on the to-do list to improve. He gives Luka Doncic an on-ball option while being reliable off of it, though the Mavericks need more ready-now players than prospects.

11. Orlando Magic: F Bilal Coulibaly, Metropolitans 92

Coulibaly feels like the exact kind of prospect the next team would swing on (spoiler alert: it’s the Thunder), but Orlando is already taking a guard in this draft and doesn’t exactly need to go for a big man. Coulibaly, 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, gives them an intriguing profile at the forward spot they don’t have, and they can be patient with his development, too. There’s still plenty of rawness to his game on both ends – he’s not a high volume shooter nor a playmaker – but he’s the kind of player who can transform into a hidden gem if the development staff gets it right. With two picks in the top 11, Orlando should swing on this pitch.

Chet Holmgren’s development is the chief priority for the Thunder at center, but since they have a wealth of prospects elsewhere, going for another center could be the path. Lively is 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-7 wingspan and averaged 2.5 blocks a game as a freshman last season in just 20 minutes. Offensively, he’s primarily a lob threat with great mobility. Even if he never becomes anything beyond that, he’s a solid profile to call off the bench in the non-Holmgren minutes.

13. Toronto Raptors: G Jalen Hood-Schifino, Indiana

Selecting a guard is largely dependent upon Fred VanVleet’s future, which doesn’t seem like it’ll be in Toronto anymore. Why Hood-Schifino pops up is because he’s 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan. If we know anything about the Raptors’ roster construction, it’s that they love rangy players who can guard multiple positions. Ding ding ding. Hood-Schifino, 20, is extremely raw in his offensive game – he’s not an elite 3-point shooter or scorer in the paint. But Toronto has shown it can elevate players to new heights, and he might be their type of guard.

If Lively is gone by this pick, it’ll be interesting for New Orleans with Jonas Valanciunas on the wrong side of 30 and Zion Williamson’s injury history. Their frontcourt depth beyond that is murky, and that might not be addressable this early in the draft so they’ll need to look at moving back. But for this exercise, Wallace could make sense as a 6-foot-2 guard with a 6-foot-8 wingspan. C.J. McCollum is usually the lead ball-handler, so Wallace, who is already solid off the ball, can learn and grow behind him and possibly become a lead playmaker down the line. Kobe Bufkin is another name who could work here.

15. Atlanta Hawks: F Jett Howard, Michigan

Saddiq Bey gave Atlanta a much-needed shooting lift after coming over via trade from Detroit, but the Hawks should look for more around Trae Young. Big men is another area worth looking at, but Howard, 6-foot-8, is one of the best shooters in this class and could slot in sooner rather than later. He attempted 7.3 3s per game last season and made 36.8% of them as a 19-year-old. He might not fare well defensively against quicker players, but there’s always room for a player of his profile, and Atlanta, after having drafted forwards Jalen Johnson and A.J. Griffin recently, needs someone to hit.

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16. Utah Jazz: G Kobe Bufkin, Michigan

Back-to-back Michigan prospects sees Bufkin, 19, go to Utah. At 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-8 wingspan, Bufkin is more of a combo guard who can compete for minutes off the bench with a shot at becoming a starter down the line. At this point the Jazz don’t need a specific type of player seeing their roster is quite crowded, so going for the best available talent – if they don’t trade back – is an ideal choice. Bufkin is a solid on- and off-ball prospect on both ends of the floor who feels like a sixth-man impact player on this Jazz side.

17. Los Angeles Lakers: G/F Jordan Hawkins, UConn

Do the Lakers look to the future or prioritize LeBron James’ needs in the short term? Retirement questions aside, James led the team to a Western Conference Finals berth but just didn’t have the scoring around him to move the needle against the soon-to-be champions in Denver. There are other reasons for that, but next is UConn sharpshooter Jordan Hawkins, who, at 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan, is an ideal 3-and-D profile to surround James with. Hawkins drilled 38.8% of his 3s on 7.6 attempts and thrived via spot-ups and movement, so he’ll be a hot commodity around this range. If he grows his on-ball ability offensively, there’s an intriguing player in the making.

18. Miami Heat: G/F Brice Sensabaugh, Ohio State

Where Miami goes will be interesting to watch. They were a Tyler Herro away from possibly making the Finals more competitive, though not having more effective big men behind Bam Adebayo also played a role in their downfall. They also have key free agents like Gabe Vincent to retain, too. All in all, Sensabaugh makes sense for the Heat considering he’s all about scoring: 3s, in the post, mid-range, you name it. There are tunnel vision concerns and defensive mobility questions – and Miami relies on selfless passers and switchable defenders – but they need more players like Jimmy Butler who can go and get a bucket when needed. Sensabaugh fits that mold.

19. Golden State Warriors: C Noah Clowney, Alabama

The Warriors have illustrated a trend of drafting young in recent years, but that strategy hasn’t exactly paid off considering they needed more ready-now pieces to consistently contend. Clowney and Dariq Whitehead were two names that emerged with that line of thought, even though they may look to go older – like Kris Murray – in 2023. Clowney is the pick here, though, because Golden State desperately needs more size down low. Clowney, 6-foot-10, brings that along with great mobility and a willingness to shoot 3s. He’s not 19 yet, but he checks multiple boxes for this team.

20. Houston Rockets: G Nick Smith Jr., Arkansas

Like Utah above, Houston at this stage should look for the best talent. Luckily for Houston, Smith wouldn’t be a problem considering he’s also a potential lead guard, something it doesn’t exactly have yet. Smith should also draw more buzz higher up, but he’s a 6-foot-5 guard with a 6-foot-8 wingspan with athleticism and attractive shooting skills. There needs to be more work done with his off-ball abilities, but his upside on both ends of the floor is quite enthralling for a team like the Rockets to gamble on.

21. Brooklyn Nets: G/F Dariq Whitehead, Duke

The Nets have back-to-back picks here, so they have leeway on one of their picks and should take major swings. Grabbing Whitehead feels like one, despite a foot injury setting him back both statistically and developmentally. Brooklyn is in the midst of a rebuild and needs more project players to tap into, particularly ones who can create their own offense. Whitehead, 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, has shown those flashes at Duke and could be a real steal depending on if he falls even lower or goes around this range.

22. Brooklyn Nets: C James Nnaji, Barcelona

Nnaji, who is turning 19 soon, is starting to rise on some boards and it’s easy to see why. Brooklyn doesn’t have much after Nic Claxton, but Nnaji is 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-7 wingspan who has displayed elite traditional abilities from a center despite playing very few minutes in Spain. That may just be his ceiling, but give him time and there are riveting tools there where he could become a high-end starter at the 5 spot.

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23. Portland Trail Blazers: F/C Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana

A Clowney or Nnaji type of prospect would be good for Portland here considering they don’t have a big man behind Jusuf Nurkic, which has been a roster problem for a while now. Tristan Vukcevic, though a big jump at the moment, should be considered here, but it’s Jackson-Davis for now. At 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, he’s a small-ball center who can score in multiple ways down low and snag rebounds with his strength. He averaged 20.9 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks in college, and although those numbers don’t always matter when evaluating NBA fit, his age (23) and already-developed skills would be an immediate bench option if keeping Lillard is the move.

24. Sacramento Kings: F Kris Murray, Iowa

It seems logical to bring the Murray brothers to Sacramento. Keegan, last year’s No. 4 overall pick, flourished to help the city end its lengthy playoff drought and proved the lights weren’t too bright in the playoffs, too. The Kings need more size from their wings to take the next step, and Kris, almost 23, brings that at 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot wingspan. His 3-point shooting (33.5% on 6.8 attempts) needs improvement to be considered a 3-and-D player, but that would be great value for Sacramento with this pick. Olivier-Maxence Prosper is another one to consider due to his defensive abilities, but his shooting currently is worse than Murray’s.

25. Memphis Grizzlies: G/F Olivier-Maxence Prosper, Marquette

Speaking of Prosper, the Grizzlies are losing Dillon Brooks in free agency. Drama aside, it’s the right move as his limitations as a starter proved costly. But they can retain some of his traits with Prosper, a soon-to-be 21-year-old forward. Prosper isn’t exactly an offensive threat yet (similar to Brooks), but his defensive abilities could ensure a spot in the rotation sooner rather than later with the potential to add a scoring bag over time. Memphis’ developmental team is a great fit.

26. Indiana Pacers: F/C Leonard Miller, G League Ignite

Miller, at 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, is another small-ball center prospect who has shown a willingness to extend his game beyond the perimeter. Indiana already has big men who can do that, but Miller, 19, is also adept in the paint, too, so he’d provide them a solid option at the 4 and 5 spots.

27. Charlotte Hornets: G/F Maxwell Lewis, Pepperdine

The Hornets have plenty of question marks, but if they take Scoot at No. 2, taking a shot on a wing here could make sense. Lewis, almost 21, is 6-foot-6 with a 7-foot wingspan and did a little of everything at Pepperdine. He’s not a lead guard, but he shouldered a heavy offensive load and posted strong numbers that indicate he could develop into a secondary or tertiary scorer over time. His floor as a 3-and-D prospect is high, and that for Charlotte with this pick would be a massive pickup.

28. Utah Jazz: F G.G. Jackson, South Carolina

Utah is back and the philosophy from its previous pick carries over: Take a shot at a potential gem given the range of the pick. Jackson, 18, is the youngest player in the draft and is 6-foot-8 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan and 214 pounds. There’s already a lot to like about that given there’s plenty of room to grow, which then takes us to the on-court fit. He had an underwhelming year as a former top-ranked high school prospect, but he’s a 3/4 hybrid who can create for himself and handle the ball. He needs time to polish everything, but teams operating with patience should be looking at him closely, not just Utah.

29. Indiana Pacers: G Colby Jones, Xavier

Indiana’s philosophy carries over here, too. Jones makes plenty of sense for the Pacers, even more so if they trade Buddy Hield. He’s a 6-foot-5 guard with a 6-foot-8 wingspan with ready-now two-way skills to compete for a rotation spot at 21 years old. He’s not a volume 3-point shooter or a knockdown one at that, but going 37.8% on 3.3 attempts is something to work with on top of his paint scoring and ball-handling abilities.

30. LA Clippers: G/F Julian Strawther, Gonzaga

The Clippers love their wings who are rangy and can shoot. Strawther, 21, fits those bills as a 6-foot-6 wing with a 6-foot-9 wingspan who makes his 3s on high volume (40.8% on 5.3 attempts) while quietly improving as an on-ball threat. He’s also sound defensively despite the steals and blocks not jumping off the screen, but he possesses the size and quickness to guard at least three positions. For a team like the Clippers, that’s highly valuable, and there’s a chance he can compete for minutes now in a make-or-break year for the Kawhi Leonard-Paul George duo in Southern California.

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